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Planes, Cruise Ships, and Germs

Boost your chances of healthy travel by taking a few preventive steps.

Flu Season Coming continued...

2. Stay hydrated. "Keep up your fluids," Schaffner says. Avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol, because both can cause dehydration. If you want to indulge in an alcoholic drink or a cup of java, make sure you drink plenty of water before and during the flight. You can also keep your eyes and nasal passages moist with saline eye drops and saline nasal spray.

3. Ask a flight attendant for new seating if a passenger nearby is coughing, sneezing or appears ill. "Proximity matters," says Schaffner, who once developed a cold within a couple of days after sitting by a sneezing, sniffling plane passenger. "Being very close to the source -- in the same row or two seats in front or back -- those are the folks who are at greatest risk," he says. "After that, the risk tails off very remarkably."

The reason? Large aircraft are designed so that air doesn't blow from the front to the rear of the cabin, but instead, air circulates "segmentally," from ceiling to floor. "You're really in your own kind of air zone, with about two rows in front and two in back," Schaffner says.

The longer you're seated near an ill passenger, the greater your risk of exposure, Schaffner adds. "The longer you're together, the more apt you are to talk with each other, perhaps even touch the same things, and the longer you share the same airspace."

4. Consider getting a flu shot before you travel. Some experts like Schaffner worry that this year's flu season may be harsher than in the last three years.

It takes two weeks to get maximum immune protection from the flu shot, Schaffner says. But getting the shot late can still confer some protection. "From the moment you get the inoculation, your immune system begins to rev up in response to the vaccine."

"Although colds are a bother," Schaffner adds, "influenza is the viral infection that will put you into the hospital. It's the one that can get complicated by pneumonia, it's the one that year in and year out, on average, causes 36,000 deaths each year. It's the serious one. Get vaccinated. Protect yourself. Then you'll be a good citizen on the airplane and at home. You won't transmit influenza to anyone else, either."

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